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Orlando City Defense Being Lifted by Unexpected Help of Shane O’Neill

The Irish center back has performed better than expected in his first two matches in a Lions’ uniform.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Columbus Crew SC Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City fans haven’t had much good news in recent weeks as they saw their team get knocked out of U.S. Open Cup by the Philadelphia Union and suffer an infuriating loss to Columbus Crew SC in MLS play.

In these two matches, however, the Lions had a positive surprise, thanks to the performances of center back Shane O’Neill. The Irishman played all 90 minutes in both games and had promising displays, especially considering he hadn’t endured an entire match since May 2017.

Against the Union, when he was paired with Amro Tarek in central defense, the 24-year-old had a handful of important defensive actions, including three tackles, two interceptions, and five recoveries.

“It was my first 90 minutes in a while,” the defender told the team’s website after the Philadelphia game. “So I’m just trying to get sharp and in a rhythm in terms of the game. For the first 90 minutes it was all right, but it’s something to build on. When you don’t have that feel for a game you kind of lose a little bit of the confidence that you normally have and just getting that back is going to be really important for me.”

Last weekend in Ohio, O’Neill had another display of how useful he can be for Orlando if he’s able to maintain this level. The defender had an impressive eight clearances — one fewer than his center back partner Chris Schuler — to go along with two tackles and an interception. The two of them could have done a better job of limiting Gyasi Zardes’ space on the Crew’s first goal, but these are the kind of mistakes you can expect from first-time partners.

Two matches is obviously a very small sample size, but O’Neill has shown much more than many would’ve expected in 180 minutes, myself included. If he manages to improve his current form as he plays more and more matches, he could prove to be a viable starting option going forward.

At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, the Irishman could be the physical partner for Jonathan Spector the Lions have been looking for a while. Jose Aja, Seb Hines, Leo Pereira, Tommy Redding, Lamine Sané, Schuler, and Tarek all had their chances. It might be O’Neill’s turn now.